A Chinese state-owned company and a private company are teaming up to create a satellite SAR constellation of 96, with the first launch scheduled for February 2022. The China Electronics Technology Group’s (CETC) 38th institute will collaborate with private satellite producer Spacety to develop the Tianxian X as well as C-band synthetic aperture radar constellation. The constellation will be made up of 96 tiny satellites that will be deployed into different planes.

The statement was made at the just-finished Zhuhai Airshow situated in south China on October 3. The China Great Wall Industry Corporation (CGWIC) has secured a contract to launch the first set of satellites on the 2nd Long March 8 in 2022 February. According to Spacety, a third launch is planned for Q3 2020. According to Science and Technology Daily, the Tianxian satellites would feature four imaging modes. Fast image interpretation and data transmission will be possible thanks to onboard processing capabilities. The TY-MiniSAR-C and X first-generation satellite platforms have already been built by Spacety.

The SAR payload and satellite platform for C-band satellite Hisea-1 were developed in collaboration by Spacety and the 38th Institute. The 185-kilogram satellite was launched from Wenchang in December 2020 on the very first Long March 8 rocket. The Hisea-1 satellite is China’s first commercial SAR satellite, with the spatial resolution of about 1 meter and a sweep width of 100 kilometers. It is focused on national security, disaster preparedness, industrial applications, and scientific research, as well as ocean and coastal surveillance.

Tianxian is a possible example of China’s military-civil integration national strategy, leveraging and maximizing civil and military capabilities and potentially servicing both military and economic objectives, due to the nature of its partners and capabilities. For collision avoidance, orbit maintenance, and de-orbiting, Hisea-1 is equipped with the iodine electric propulsion system created by French startup ThrustMe. T4i, an Italian corporation, and Spacety recently inked a Memorandum of Understanding on collaboration in electric propulsion and flying potential.

These collaborations could enable Spacety to achieve the requirements set forth by the Chinese government entity in charge of commercial space development. China’s State Administration of Science, Technology, and Industry for National Defense (SASTIND) issued a “notice on promoting the orderly development of small satellites” on May 19 that covers topics such as on-orbit safety, frequency use, production, launch applications, and collision avoidance capabilities.

At the end of its three-year mission, Hisea-1 is scheduled to utilize its propulsion system to be able to deorbit. The Tianxian intentions come after a flurry of the commercial SAR constellation launches around the world. Iceye of Finland already has X-band SAR satellites in service, and Capella Space’s Sequoia, the company’s first operational satellite, is also in X-band. PredaSAR, a startup based in the United States, and iQPS, a company based in Japan, are both involved in this field.

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